Sometimes politicians still surprise me, even after all these years.
Yesterday in India, Australia's Foreign Minister the Hon Julie Bishop MP seemed to use Australia's participation in the UN Compulsory Conciliation as a 'badge of honour', an example of Australia's commitment to UNCLOS and international law.
She of course avoided use of the word 'Compulsory'.
Here are a few other things she neglected to say:
Under her leadership Australia has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to avoid this UN process initiated by Timor-Leste in April 2016.
At the time of the Opening Hearings in August 2016 Minister Bishop said:
"We will argue that the commission does not have jurisdiction to conduct hearings on maritime boundaries. If the Commission ultimately find that it does have jurisdiction to heart matters on maritime boundaries, then its final report on that matter is not binding."
When the Commission ruled that they did have jurisdiction Bishop again said:
"In accordance with the provisions of UNCLOS, the Commission will produce a report which, unlike an arbitration decision, is not legally binding."
So (1) we shouldn't be in it and (2) we can ignore its outcome.
Australia's participation was pretty much unavoidable. The process in compulsory. But it was certainly not welcome and its outcome has already been 'downplayed' by the Minister.
And then there is this fact:
The option of an arbitration was denied to East Timor because Australia [unlike India] does not submit to any arbitration to do with maritime boundaries under UNCLOS. Australia made a deliberate withdrawal from jurisdiction in March 2002 to thwart Timorese aspirations for a just maritime boundary based on the median line.
The India - Bangladesh resolution, which she praises, has some striking contrasts with Australia's position towards East Timor.
- The resolution was only possible because the larger country [India] was willing to be subject to the arbitration initiated by the smaller country [Bangladesh]
- The outcome was accepted graciously by India who noted the larger country should not bully the smaller
- India pursued straight ‘equidistant’ case, Bangladesh argued ‘equity’ - arguing that the economic results of a simple midline would unequally impact their country
- Bangladesh’s ‘win’ in 2014 opened up opportunities for oil exploration that will be a big help to the struggling Bangladesh economy - something welcomed by India
If Australia wanted to follow the example of India they could submit to arbitration. Or they could recognise the 'economic inequity' and err on the side of generosity as regards Greater Sunrise.
We are coming to the pointy end of the Compulsory Conciliation process. The report is to be delivered to the Secretary General of the United Nations by the 19th of September 2017.
Is Australia's approach matching its rhetoric? Is it going to be like India - or will it continue to be adversarial and mean spirited?
It is a confidential process, but the tone of the press releases from the PCA are give the message that moving towards a resolution is a struggle.
One thing for sure, Bishop cannot have it both ways.
If there is no mutual agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste come the 19th of September East Timor's supporters will want to know why. The Secretary General of the UN will surely want to know why too. The UN process was designed to resolve this kind of dispute.
All of this speech about respecting international law could very quickly be shown on a global scale to be hollow.
Keep the pressure up - there is still a little time to complete and send paper versions of our petition to the House of Representatives. [till 30th July 2017]